Theatre Guide takes centre stage
It was almost St Stephen's Day all over again as Theatre Guide delivered his connections another magical moment at Kempton Park with a decisive victory in the BetBright Chase.
So often the bridesmaid, the nine-year-old at long last enjoyed his moment in the limelight, along with giving leading Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup hope Cue Card - his regular gallops partner - the perfect boost as he bounded away to an overdue win in the Grade Three prize.
Attractively weighted and with form figures to match his chief rivals, the 6-1 chance was held up during the early stages of the three-mile prize, with Paddy Brennan content to bide his time on the Hennessy runner-up.
As early leaders Tenor Nivernais and Ziga Boy paid the price for setting a fierce gallop, the Colin Tizzard-trained runner was moved into a prominent position rounding the home turn together with equally strong-travelling Le Reve.
It looked as though Lucy Wadham's charge was all set to go one better than last year's result, but his chance soon faded as Theatre Guide forged on over the second-last before quickening up readily on the run to the final fence.
Clearing the last with ease, the King's Theatre gelding continued to assert, crossing the line 10 lengths to the good of 2013 winner Opening Batsman, evoking memories of his more illustrious stablemate's success in the William Hill King George VI Chase.
Following the race the winner was shortened into 14-1 from 25-1 for the Ultima Handicap Chase at next month's Cheltenham Festival. "To win a £100,000 race like that is beyond our expectations," Tizzard said. "We thought we had him right, and I said when the media were down this week that he'd worked with Cue Card and finished a bit closer than he usually does. He was good today, really good.
"He's in the Ultima at Cheltenham and that has got to come into the reckoning. He has always threatened to do this. He looked an absolute picture this year and when we put the saddle on today it was the best I've seen him look.
"He hit the first fence last time out and in the Hennessy, so we jumped him over 10 fences on Friday to get that off his back. He won like a good horse today. They went off like scalded cats up front and they paid the price for it. He came through well, but I didn't quite expect that."
Brennan, who rode Cue Card in a piece of work at the track before racing, said of the winner: "He was awesome today, it worked out brilliantly. He has so much confidence in himself, and a big thanks today goes to Tom George. I couldn't ride him the last day and I promised the owners I would today, then Roc d'Apsis won well and got into the race, so I owe this to Tom George.
"I didn't need to get aggressive with him today. I was hoping Harry (Skelton, on Le Reve) would have stayed a bit longer up the straight with me. When I hit the front, though, I was not stopping."
Winning owner Jean Bishop, whose husband Bob passed away just four days after the King George, said: "It's very sad, but we move on and I'm sure he's watching down on us. He wouldn't want us not to do anything, I bet he's saying 'go on, enjoy it'."
Rocking Blues, meanwhile, gave both trainer Rose Dobbin and jockey Lorcan Murtagh their biggest successes when running out an impressive winner of the Betfred Eider Chase at Newcastle. Murtagh, 17-year-old son of ex-jockey turned trainer Barry, was the most inexperienced pilot in the famous long-distance race but looked a seasoned professional as he gave the 11-year-old a confident ride.
There was drama at the first when Cultram Abbey fell and the fancied Ballyculla made a bad mistake, before the race settled with Wyck Hill setting the pace from Mysteree, Woodford County and Presented. When the tempo increased in the final mile, Ballyculla fell and Russe Blanc unseated.
Murtagh was going ominously well on Rocking Blues (8-1), who cruised into the lead at the fourth-last fence. He soon pulled clear and despite a mistake at the last, the result was never in doubt and Rocking Blues went on to score by nine lengths from top weight Shotgun Paddy.
Portrait King was three-quarters of a length away in third, with Mysteree a short head further back in fourth.
Killala Quay answered every call to land an incident-packed BetBright Best For Festival Betting Pendil Novices' Chase at Kempton. Sent to the front from flag-fall by champion jockey-elect Richard Johnson, the Charlie Longsdon-trained winner (5-1) jumped left for much of the journey but refused to buckle when faced with challengers on all sides.
Mon Successeur fell four out and had to be put down having suffered a broken shoulder, while The Saint James also fell three from home, leaving Twelve Roses as the big danger. The long-time leader found a great leap at the final fence, however, and kept on determinedly for a three-and-a-quarter-length success.
"He enjoys this better ground and two and a half miles is as short as he can take these days," Johnson said, "so I tried to put everything under pressure as much as I could. Going left-handed would be a bonus, but he jumped better in the last mile when they were racing."
Johnson reached his first double century of winners on Friday and added: "I've had a dream season, so much support from owners, trainers and the general public and hopefully there's more to look forward to."
Longsdon added: "He had a lot of problems last year, but his form two years ago in the Neptune was as strong as you can get. "He had a mid-season break as he hates the soft ground, and today he came here fresh. It looked a weaker Pendil than normal with it only being two and a half weeks to Cheltenham, and we thought we'd take our chance.
"Richard said he was flat out and the ground was a bit slow, which is why he jumped a little bit left. I keep saying he wants three miles, but the owners think he is a two and a half mile horse. Richard said lets try him over three miles on better ground, as I think three miles would be the trip on good ground.
"He's in the two-and-a-half-mile novice handicap at the Festival and he might go there, but let's enjoy today."
Sunday Indo Sport